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Reasons Why Your Website Suddenly Dropped In Google Rank (and why You need SEO Audit)
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Some site owners obsess over their Google rank (I wish they were obsessed with SEO Audit). That’s not uncommon, since Google can bring you mountains of traffic. When you rely on Google for your site’s income and revenue, it’s devastating to check your rank the next morning to find out that it’s totally destroyed.
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You could be on Google’s first page one day, but the next day you’re nowhere to be found in the first 10 pages. Traffic becomes non-existent and you panic. Before you panic too much, here are 10 reasons it could happen to your site.
1. Improper Robots.txt Syntax – SEO Audit can catch it
Your robots.txt file helps instruct the crawler and tells it what to crawl and what not to crawl. If you accidentally set your site to block search engines, Google assumes that you want to block crawling and possibly remove information from search.
Just because you have set instructions to stop crawling doesn’t mean that Google immediately removes your site from search. It’s a slow process, and Google continues to come back to your site to see if crawling is still blocked in the robots.txt file. If the block persists, Google then drops pages from the index. You won’t notice until you check search rankings to find pages suddenly missing from the index.
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2. Your Host’s Router is Blocking Google – that also can be catched by SEO Audit
If your site is on a new server, Google’s crawlers are much more aggressive. They crawl consistently to collect statistical data about the server. You won’t know if your site is on a new server unless you ask your host, who might not even tell you about the change.
When Google crawls too aggressively, the host’s router sometimes sees it as a denial-of-service (DOS) attack. The router automatically blocks the Google crawler IP address and it can no longer crawl your site. If the crawler can’t access your site, you can see alerts in Google Search Console. You can also ask your host to check router configurations to ensure that it’s not blocking any Google IP addresses.
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3. The Honeymoon Period is Over
Is your site brand new? Has it only been active for a few months? Google artificially ranks websites to collect data from them. The data is used to determine user engagement and how your site should rank against competitors. Once data is fully collected, your site drops down in rank to its natural location. The period in which Google artificially ranks the site is called the “honeymoon period.” This term isn’t in Google’s official designation, but it’s passed around in SEO circles.
You can’t stop the honeymoon period activity. You should just make sure that your site’s architecture is set up to make it easy for users to navigate throughout the content, which should be well written.
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4. Your Site is Hacked – SEO Audit will show You that
There are several “SEO hacks” on the Internet. Many of them intend to steal your traffic and Google rank. Some of them redirect users based on where they came from. For instance, if the user clicks a Google link in search, the site redirects to a third-party location. Other hacks redirect Google’s crawler. When Google crawls your site, it’s redirected to the hacker’s site. This type of activity causes Google to associate the hacker’s site with yours.
Hacked websites are extremely annoying and frustrating. First, you must find the hacked content and fix it, and then find out how the hacker gained access to your site. To find out if your site is hacked, you might need a professional. One way to check your site’s behaviour when it’s crawled is to use the Search Console’s “Fetch as Google” tool. The site is crawled using Google’s IP address and crawler information, so you can see the response from your server. If it’s a redirect or page content that you don’t recognize, your site could be hacked.
5. You Accidentally Placed “No Index” Meta Tags in the Site Content
This mistake often happens with WordPress sites. WordPress has a setting that allows you to hide content from search engines. The setting places a “no index” meta tag in your site content; this directive tells Google not to index the page. If the page is indexed and then this tag is added, Google removes the content from search.
You can view your page code in your browser to figure out if the tag was added. The following HTML code is what the meta tag looks like:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>
The above meta tag tells all search engines to remove the content from search. You can also specify Google only. The following meta tag only removes the content from Google.
<meta name=”googlebot” content=”noindex”>
You can delete this entire tag and wait for a re-crawl for it to be re-added to Google’s index.
6. You Have a Manual Penalty
Google has two main types of penalties. The first one is built into the algorithm, so any drop in rank is based on statistics pulled from your site. The second type is manual. When manual action is placed on your site, a Google Quality Search Team member reviewed your site and found it violates guidelines.
When manual penalties are placed on your site, your site ranking is destroyed until you fix it. You know if you have a penalty by checking Search Console. Search Console also tells you what type of penalty is placed on your site so that you can take the next steps to fix the problem.
7. Your Server Returns the Wrong Status Code – one of the reason why You may need SEO Audit
Each time Google or a human viewer accesses your site, a status code is returned from the server. This status code tells bots and browsers if the request was successful. A status code of 200 means the request was successful and no errors occurred.
Several other status codes are useful, but they can affect your page’s rank. For instance, a 404 status code is useful when you delete content from your site and a page is no longer available. If your server is not configured properly, you could return one of these status codes instead of a 200. When this happens, your pages slowly drop out of the search index.
You can check status codes returned to Google by using the “Fetch as Google” tool in Search Console.
8. Your Pages Return an Error Only for Google – easy to catch by SEO Audit
Some site owners incorporate custom tracking code in their site programming. Each time a visitor accesses the site, the code logs an entry in a database. When Google accesses the site, the code logs an entry for Google.
This type of tracking is great for reporting, but bugs based on Google crawling only show up for Google and not for you or your users. When this happens, every time Google crawls your site, an error is returned. If pages return errors to Google, they are removed from the search index.
You must review your code and ensure that it’s thoroughly tested before you deploy it to your production environment. You can find this error using Search Console’s “Fetch as Google” tool.
9. SEO Audit can find out Overall Quality of the Content is Poor
Content quality is difficult for a webmaster to identify. It’s hard to judge your own content when you wrote it. If you accept user-generated content, you should always have editorial control and review it before you publish it on your site. This includes user reviews that are poorly written.
A site audit is usually required if poor search engine rankings aren’t the result of a technical issue. Read through your site and remove pages that you think could be low or questionable quality.
Any user-generated content especially should be checked, as it is usually from spammers who want to use your site for a backlink. The content could be spun, copied directly from another website, or poorly written with several backlinks. These pages should be deleted and any future content from third parties thoroughly reviewed.
10. You Built Backlinks – SEO Audit will figure out overall quality
The topic of backlinks and backlink building is often confusing to website owners. Google’s guidelines restrict you from building backlinks that could be seen by the algorithms as a way to artificially manipulate rank. Backlinks should come naturally and without generating them on your own. Any links that you buy, place on another site, or trade with another site owner could get you a manual penalty or a reduced rank through the algorithms.
It’s not easy to determine why your site lost rankings. Many of the issues are technical, but some quality issues can also affect your Google rank. You should fully evaluate your site for each of these issues to determine why Google no longer includes it in the index.
One thing to note as you evaluate your site is that technical issues usually result in pages being de-indexed. Quality issues usually result in pages losing rank. Once technical issues are solved, your pages should return to the index quickly. With quality issues, it can take several months to see positive movement.
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11. Avoid a Google Penalty: Background Check Your Domain Before You Buy
Did you know that link penalties follow a domain? It doesn’t matter that you’re a new owner. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know. It doesn’t matter if you thought the domain was new. Google applies link penalties to domains with poor backlinks regardless, and any new owner is stuck with the penalty. For this reason, you need to take steps to background check a domain’s history before you buy it. Here are some tips for webmasters looking for a new domain.
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12. Use Archive.org to View Domain History
Do you remember The Wayback Machine? The Wayback Machine is an old Internet archive site. The organization later changed its domain name to Archive.org. You can search any site and see its history back to the 1990s. It’s also an excellent tool to identify previously spammy domains.
Go to Archive.org and type your domain name. View its history, if it has any. Was the domain used for spammy content? Does it look like a legitimate business or did the former owner publish low quality content? While low quality content isn’t the crux of a link penalty, it can be a clue that the domain has spam links. Most people who create spammy domain content also blast the domain with low quality links.
If you see no history for the domain on Archive.org, there is still no guarantee that it wasn’t previously used. Site owners have the option to block the Archive.org bot from indexing content. While it’s not common, blocking bots is still a possibility when a domain doesn’t show up in Archive.org.
13. Look at Link Analyzer Tools
The two most common link analyzer tools in the SEO market are Ahrefs.com and MajesticSEO.com. Both of these tools provide excellent overviews of backlinks and linking domains. Majestic has a “trust flow” factor integrated into its graphs. This factor attempts to identify spam links from good ones, but it’s not a precise measurement.
Both of these tools have a free version where you can get the first few backlinks for a domain. If a majority of these links are from low quality domains, then the domain could have a link penalty. You get better analysis with paid versions of these link tools, but a free report helps give you a basic overview of backlink history.
Just like Archive.org, backlink tools don’t give you a guarantee. If no links show up, it’s possible that the previous site owner blocked link analyzer bots. Fortunately, this is rare unless the previous owner knew how to keep the site anonymous to bots.
14. Search the Domain in Google
One basic part of doing business on the Internet is scrapers. Scrapers are bot programs that scan your site for content and post the content to the thief’s website. It’s a form of content theft, but it happens to almost every webmaster. However, scrapers can give you a clue to the history of a previously owned domain. Sometimes, these bots post a backlink to the original owner’s domain. These backlinks are still visible in search engines, so you can find the original content posted to a domain. This step is useful if you don’t find any history in Archive.org.
If you find content related to the domain name, look at the site and identify if it’s a scraper that stole content from the original owner. Some scrapers attempt to spin content from an original source, so again, this is not a guarantee that the previous owners placed good or bad content on a site. However, it does give you clues to the content theme. For instance, if the theme is pharmacy content, you probably don’t want to purchase a domain associated with online drug sales.
15. Use DomainTools.com
DomainTools.com gives you a snapshot of the WhoIs information for a domain. WhoIs information includes the original create date, any dates associated with WhoIs changes, the technical administrator, and some more searches that cost a monthly fee. A basic WhoIs search is free, though. Do a search in DomainTools and look at the original create date. If this date isn’t the date you purchased the domain or it’s from several years ago, the domain has a history.
A domain with a history isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it means you could start off with a domain that has a penalty. Unless the cost is cheap, it’s best to find an alternative where you don’t take any chances.
While these tools can guarantee that you’re buying a perfectly safe domain, they do help people avoid common scams with resold domains. Some people just let a domain expire without ever using it for nefarious purposes, but Google has stated that the onus is on the buyer to ensure the quality of the domain.
One final note on Google penalties: link penalties cannot be overturned just by filing a reconsideration request. “Pure spam” and “thin content” penalties are revoked if the new domain owner sends a reconsideration request telling Google that they have purchased the domain. However, if you’re unfortunate enough to buy a domain with a link penalty, you must clean up the links to recover.
Before initiating an SEO campaign, it is important to conduct a thorough audit. Modern SEO has progressed from the time of following a consistent plan, with each new campaign now requiring a tailored response. Whether you are working on your own website or one owned by a client, you need to research, analyze, and plan the road ahead. It is easy to get distracted by an audit, though, with research potentially covering every aspect of optimization. A better strategy is to limit the scope of your audit, ensuring you only cover the most important factors that will bring results. A quality audit should be structured around the following five areas.
Off-page factors can be controlled to a degree, but ideally, you should be benefiting from promotion by other sites that like your content. Factors you can control include setting up a Google My Business page, submitting the site to quality directories, sending out a press release, and gaining citations from industry platforms. During the analysis phase, look at the backlinks you already have, check the anchor text to avoid over-optimization penalties, and note the type of sites currently linking. You want to develop a broad link profile that includes a variety of sites and anchor text.
On-page factors are within your control, so it is important to get them right. During the analysis phase, run a speed test to ensure your site loads quickly. A mobile check will also confirm that your site works across all mobile devices. A good internal linking structure ensures authority is passed around the site, while the presence of multimedia is positive for SEO. Your title tags, headings, and descriptions should be unique and persuasive, and you can add geographical terms for local sites. Finally, make sure the URLs are simple to understand, both for visitors and search engines.
Competitive analysis will reveal exactly what you are facing to reach the top positions. For quick analysis, you can study the first page of your main keywords, as lower pages get minimal traffic. Research the number of backlinks for a page and the whole site, as well as social factors, anchor text distribution, and site content, so you get a broad sense of the competition. Every SEO campaign is different, so analysis will reveal the factors that are proving effective for a particular keyword.
Site architecture could be included with on-page optimization, but its importance means you can treat it as a separate factor. The architecture of a site focuses on its structure, including the hierarchy of pages and categories, how easy it is to go from the homepage to an internal page, and whether visitors find it easy to navigate. You can analyze site architecture by using heatmaps, analytics, and services that get real users to test your site structure.
A social media audit will ensure you have an active social following across a number of platforms. The obvious contenders include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, but there are other platforms that might suit your particular niche and communication methods. Analysis of social media should also reveal whether you are linking back to the main website, if social sites are interlinked, and if content is being syndicated across all platforms.
By focusing on these five areas, you can conduct a quick SEO audit that gives you all the data you need. Starting an SEO campaign without this data can lead to wasted time and money, and can even cause damage if you pursue an overzealous linking campaign. Assessing the health of your website, the quality of your backlinks, and the strength of your competitors will influence the approach you take, whether this involves stepping back from competitive search terms or pushing ahead with an ambitious plan. Ultimately, key business decisions can be made with confidence when you complete a reliable SEO audit.